‘The Green Mile’ Review: “People Hurt The Ones They Love”

Posted in Screening Room by - August 12, 2015

The Green Mile is a film that I had heard about countless times, and have had numerous friends tell me it was one of their favorite movies. I had personally put off watching the film because of those sentiments, and because the film’s premise did not sound remotely intriguing to me. It’s really unfortunate since the film is based off a serialized novel from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King. That being said, the subject material is unlike a vast majority of King’s work, with closest comparison being The Shawshank Redemption, another film I have neglected to see for similar reasons to this one. This film ended up being exactly what I thought it was going to be: a melancholy-filled film that panders to the audience with rote tropes.

The film follows Paul Edgecomb as he recounts his time as a prison officer in charge of death row at the Cold Mountain Penitentiary in 1935. One day however, a prisoner arrives that changes his life forever, John Coffey. Coffey was sent to jail for allegedly murdering and raping two young girls, but has somehow received the ability from God to heal people’s medical conditions. This supernatural ability allows Coffey to resurrect a mouse, heal Edgecomb’s infection, and remove a brain tumor from the warden’s wife. This power also allows him inform Edgecomb, through a mind meld of sorts, that he is innocent of the murder charges, rather another death row prisoner Wild Bill Wharton is guilty of the crimes. Edgecomb and his guards then must deal with the moral ramifications of executing Coffey, an innocent man.

While much has been said about Michael Clarke Duncan and Tom Hanks’ performance in the film, they are overshadowed by stand-out supporting performances. Michael Jeter as Delacroix manages to take a seemingly one dimensional death row inmate and turn him into the most sympathetic character in the film. His interaction with his mouse, Mr. Jingles, is the one of the highlights of the film and helps to solidify his softhearted nature. His performance is heartbreaking as you realize this man is going to die, and he does so in the movie’s most disturbing scene. The antithesis of Del is Wild Bill Wharton, played by one of my favorite actors Sam Rockwell. He is a loose cannon in the film, taunting the guards through various means, going as far as to piss all over one of them. Rockwell has always been one of Hollywood’s most versatile character actor, and he shines whenever he is given a role that allows him to showcase his acting talents. 

Along with Jeter and Rockwell, the supporting prison guard staff is also fantastic. Jeffrey DeMunn, Doug Hutchison, Barry Pepper, and David Morse make up the core staff, and each one is perfectly cast. Morse is great as Brutal Howell who’s size is deceiving when it comes to his mellow personality. Morse is another great character actor who is given a chance to show off his acting abilities in the film, and stands out as one of the best. He is a perfect foil for the hot-headed Wetmore played by Hutchison. Wetmore is a weasel who taunts the prisoners, going as far as to break Del’s fingers just because he laughed at him. Hutchison has a knack for playing slimy  cowards, no thanks to his personal life, and Wetmore is Hutchison at his slimiest. 

My problem with the film however doesn’t lay with the performances but rather with the trite storytelling employed by Frank Darabont. As mentioned in the O Brother, Where Art Thou? Kulturecast, the film is the epitome of the ‘magic negro’ trope that has been used in Hollywood countless times. John Coffey exists in the film solely to help Hanks and the prison staff with their problems, namely curing them of disease and ridding them of violent staff. He does little else other than spout semi-philosophical musings about how humanity hurts itself, and how we should be better to one another. It’s a shame that Duncan is so poorly utilized, boiling down to a trope as opposed to a fully-fleshed out character. The supporting cast is better developed than the Coffey character and are unfortunately given less screen time than his character.

The other major complaint is the jumbled storytelling choices Darabont makes. The film is over three hours long and, during long stretches, it feels like multiple stories that have been cobbled together. This may have to do with the source material being a serialized novel as opposed to a single release. The original story was split into six different stories some of which focus on the Coffey character, the others focusing on the varied death row inmates. While that style works in the written form, its much harder to do in the cinematic medium without it feeling bloated and disjointed. I applaud Darabont for taking on such immense task as adapting the serialized story into one film, but it makes for a lengthy indulgent experience.

The Green Mile wasn’t as great as I had hoped it would be. It features some fantastic supporting performances that are given less screen time in favor of trite story-telling. The performances of Hanks and Duncan are alright but since the story arc they are involved in relies on a out-dated trope, it doesn’t result in a memorable story. I was underwhelmed by The Green Mile but glad to have finally gotten it off my watch list.

Final Say: Skip it

This post was written by
Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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